|How do your collectors feel about buying ink jet prints?
They don’t seem to have any problems with that, after all these prints will last as long as a conventional photograph. I think it’s photographers that seem to be more concerned about the life of a print, perhaps they are becoming more interested in the technical aspect of print production rather than the content.
I see your limited editions are very small.
Yes, I keep the editions deliberately small, 25 is the lowest. Over saturate the market and you undervalue your work. I have just started producing postcards and posters, these are also selling very well, people will buy them as a souvenir of the exhibition.
Do you think photographs are ever going to be collected seriously in the UK?
At last I think people are considering collecting not only historical, but contemporary photography. I think they are now seeing it as an art form. It’s not a problem in America – there are 76 galleries in New York city and there are probably 15 at the most in London. In the USA it’s so, so different to here and I’m longing for the trend to sweep over into Europe. Bit by bit it’s slowly getting here. I still think there’s a “Oh, it’s just a photograph” culture and I think it’s the repetitive nature of the photographic image that people are a bit unsure about.
I agree. What guarantee do your collectors get when they buy a print, and what will stop you from printing another 25 in 10 years time?
One likes to think that one has some integrity, there has to be an element of trust in any business deal. The real beauty of photography is that you can go out and create more pictures tomorrow. I don’t know what lies behind the resistance to buying photography but I think people who know about photography don’t think twice, they collect and they will buy – look at Elton John, he’s the one of the biggest collectors of photography on the planet. People have started collecting my work, but not many photographers.
You were born in 1949, what was your early background?
I had a public school education, but I was a bad, bad performer. Academically, I was completely useless, I hated sports so I didn’t do them, I was always last in cross country runs, I hated football (still do), I hated rugby (I thought it was rough and ghastly), I loathed cricket (thought it was tedious and boring). I didn’t enjoy any aspect of it at all. I hated all the other boys, I didn’t like any of the masters, and I was bullied at school – I was a complete wimp. I think whatever I do now has probably got a very strong connection with that unhappy school life. I left school at 16, my father was a senior air force officer, he was a huge success. God knows what he thought of his miserable little son! But I had a very happy home background.
When did you first become interested in photography?
Without question it had to be through my father. He used to do his own photography in Berlin – he had a Rolliecord, a Contax and a little Voigtlander. He lent these to me and encouraged me to do photography, but not too strongly, he just laid it in my path. I started off by photographing actors, with my Nikon, because I was an actor myself then. My interest really evolved from there.
So why didn’t you become a portrait photographer?
It is odd, I still photograph actors. I love the theatre and I love the acting profession. I love the fact that you can make friends with people in seconds (and you have to because you have to be kissing them within an hour!). I like the idea of photographing them and I felt I had an advantage over other photographers because I knew how intimidating it felt to be photographed and how you feel all at sea and totally out of control when the camera’s pointing at you. I hated pictures that photographers had taken of me, so with my understanding I thought I would be quite good at it.
When did you become interested in landscapes?
I can remember exactly. My wife Jessica, was in The Onedin line for 92 episodes (a highly successful BBC tv series in the UK) and I was a out of work actor, photographing my actor friends. I used to drive my wife down to places in Devon where they would film but I got bored hanging around on the set and decided to wander off. I drove around parts of Devon and parts of Cornwall with my Nikon FTN, and I found myself responding to little hedgerows, valleys, sheds, hills, shapes, design, abstract – it just felt good. It was completely unorganised and I didn’t know what I was responding to but I knew that I liked to make simple arrangements out of the things that man had done – a ploughed field with a single tree in the middle, and shadows – I was pretty hap-hazard at it. That was really the birth of it all. I often thought wouldn’t it be nice to be paid for something like this?
Would you say the landscape found you or you found the landscape?
I don’t know really – I think they both gelled at the same time. I know one thing, I have always thought that the lighting director behind the play, was the unsung hero as he was really responsible for bringing the play to life and giving it an atmosphere, but never really got the credit. I have always loved lighting in the theatre – I used to get terrifically excited when there was a follow spot on an individual doing a monologue or a pas de deux in the middle of the stage. Immediately I knew that light was something magical, and really important. You can, to a degree, manipulate it with clouds – saying to yourself, I’ll wait 15 minutes and then that shadow will be delivered by that cloud and that will conceal that nasty stubbly set-aside field. So being able to design lighting wise with a landscape is rather nice, so theatrical lighting had a big influence on me.
How long do you have to wait to get the right shot?
My mother accompanied me on one of my photographic locations in Wales, I told her I would just be 20 minutes and left her sitting in the car. I came back 8 hours later. I felt awful for keeping her waiting for so long, but my mother just looked at me with a smile and asked “Did you get the shot, Charlie?” She was the most wonderful companion to have and companions have to be chosen with care. Many people constantly offer to carry my bags and come with me, but the ideal person to have is someone who is completely committed and dedicated to you. My mum was one of those. She was marvellous.
You must have a lot of patience to wait for the lighting conditions to be just right.
You can easily wait for 4 or 5 hours but it’s just the most marvellous thing to do. It can be slightly tantalising and slightly frustrating, but if one comes away with not having achieved the image, I know I’ve already got it in my mind in its perfect sense.
It’s very much the one that got away then, does that happen often?
Yes, it does. I can’t bear having to tolerate so many compromises between what I know could be completely and wonderfully perfect, which is in my mind, and with my feet of clay as it were. I would rather not take the picture than settle for something I know could be better.
Do you not build up to a picture, thinking the lighting is going to be right in approx 25 minutes, I’ll start taking pictures now but if it doesn’t quite get there, I’ve almost got it?
There is a degree of that but then there are the ones that reach the spot that others don’t -Ansel Adams used to say 12 shots a year and you’re doing well. I wouldn’t dare claim 12 a year I would probably say three or four.
Is that three or four exceptional pictures?
Yes, three or four exceptional ones. Many of the others are satisfying and enjoyable to look at but they just don’t go that extra mile. It’s like in music, someone like Sibelius can make me burst into tears – his music is fantastic. Any artistic endeavour is a pursuit of some kind I think it’s probably based on a need to get closer to the divine essence of things, and Sibelius was definitely doing that.